Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Scary/Risky Matrix

What scares you isn't the same as that which can harm you.

What you are scared of is often conflated and reversed from what is actually risky. You can be scared of something that isn't risky (or have fear of something out of proportion with its risk) and the opposite can certainly be the case.

The "Risky/Scary Matrix".

What is risky to you is a function of two very simple factors. Risk is a function of only likelihood and consequence. That's it. Risk doesn't depend, directly, on your experience, your mood, your desires, or anything other than fundamental likelihood and consequence. We can reduce the likelihoods and consequences with skill, judgement, and equipment, but we cannot otherwise change the risks.

Your fear of something, or lack thereof, is far more nuanced. It can depend on risk and be correlated with risk, but it isn't perfectly so. Fear is an emotion, risk is closer to fact. Fear depends on experience, desires, training, cultural and social factors, factors in your faith (or lack thereof), personal values, and your fundamental emotional/biochemical/neurological make up.

I shared this idea recently with a client. It blew her mind. She said "I'm going to go home now and reexamine my whole life with this in mind". I like that. Mountain stuff distills lessons we need in "real life". I've long examined fear and risk, and their interplay. Mountains force that examination, eventually. We can fake it for a time, but we can't escape it. The rest of our lives, individually and collectively, are complicated and muddied by misunderstanding the interplay of risk and fear.

I can tell you, with great confidence, that understanding of the risky/scary matrix and subsequent examination in an ongoing fashion, results in a better and better alignment of what is scary and what is risky. The trickiest situations are those in which risk and fear are out of balance. When we fear something that isn't risky, we miss opportunities and experiences. When we don't fear something that is actually risky, we expose ourselves to undue hazard.

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